College basketball fans should be in for a treat with this year’s Final Four. Of course all three games could be dogs, but sizing up the event that begins Saturday, the matchups are compelling, beginning with the Kentucky-Louisville matchup at 5 p.m.
Odds makers have Kentucky heavily favored in this one, and rightfully so. The Wildcats have six or seven sure fire NBA players on their roster. Louisville doesn’t have one sure bet to play in the NBA on its roster. Still, this one has some very interesting story lines. Obviously, there is the Kentucky factor, the schools are 90 miles apart and don’t like each other very much.
There was widespread innuendo on a couple of sports talk radio shows Monday that the coaches don’t like each other very much either. Once upon a time, Louisville’s Rick Pitino was the coach at Kentucky, but he left to coach the Boston Celtics in the NBA. That didn’t go so well, and Pitino went back to the college game and landed at Louisville. Suffice it to say the Kentucky faithful were less than thrilled with that development.
Then there is Kentucky Coach John Calipari, the coach who has had Final Four appearances with Massachusetts and Memphis vacated by the NCAA due to player eligibility issues. At one time Pitino and Calipari were said to be buddies. Pitino even helped Calipari get the UMASS job, so the story goes. If we can believe the talk radio guys, they hate each other now. Hate could be too strong of a word to use here, but it is clear Pitino and Calipari won’t be having dinner together in New Orleans this week.
The smooth talking Calipari has always had illegal recruiting allegations following him and the talent he’s recruited to Kentucky has only increased those suspicions. Any coach with two guys on the bench that will play in the NBA is doing some great recruiting, and many observers assume there is no way Calipari could be doing that within the rules.
Marcus Camby, Calipari’s star player at UMASS and Derrick Rose, his star at Memphis, were both found to be ineligible after trips to the final four. Neither of these transgressions were linked to Calipari. On talk radio Monday, Nashville attorney/talk show host Clay Travis told his audience that Calipari is the dirtiest coach in college basketball. The Travis comment kept the phone lines on subsequent shows busy as Kentucky fans rightfully asked, where’s the proof?
That is the bottom line. A straw poll might easily show 80% of college basketball fans think Calipari is cheating, but so far, nothing has stuck. Legal, or not, the guy has brought some serious talent to Lexington, including a large number of guys staying one year then off to the NBA. The Wildcats look like the team to beat this weekend, but no matter how talented they are, they are young.
Two years ago West Virginia knocked out a more talented Kentucky team in the regional final. Last year, Connecticut beat the Wildcats by a point in the semifinals. If you see a pattern here, it is Kentucky has been knocked out of the tournament the last two seasons by Big East teams.
Can Louisville make it three in a row?